This place comes as quite a surprise in central Soho, the spiritual home of the tiny, steamy, cramped, and much-loved family-run café. By contrast, Princi is large, expansively minimalist, sleek and shiny, with clean lines of slate counters, stone floors, cool metal tables, and marble surfaces. On one side of the large, double glass-fronted interior is smart, spacious bakery, and on the other is a cafe serving food all day which is reminiscent of a upmarket canteen in a spa (there’s even a trough of running water along the full length of one wall) or a cavernous cafe in a grand railway station on the Rome to Milan line.
It’s modern, noisy, relaxed, informal but stylish, continental in feel, and appropriately multi-lingual. There’s the choice of standing for a fast espresso, or taking your time with latte, cake and newspaper (provided) at one of the large communal tables, or perching on a stool for a tea and tiny lavender madeleine or two, all served from proper china. It’s big enough for meetings and gatherings, and such is the buzzy atmosphere that if you are on your own, you certainly won’t feel alone.
Cakes and sweet treats are cut from huge baking trays, fresh ones being brought out all the time. They are fresh, good and down-to-earth rather than anything fancy or sophisticated, with a solidity and squareness that matches the interior decor. They are not cheap at around £4.20, but portions are generous, flavours varied (lemon, lime, chocolate, pear, toffee or combinations thereof), and all are freshly baked each day on the premises. The lemon cake is crumbly, rustic and hearty, the chocolate cake with a generous slathering of ganache topping is rich, moist and moreish, and a quiveringly creamy strawberry millefeuille is suitably difficult to bite or cut into without squirting cream everywhere. The only quibble is with the complicated and confused queuing and paying system (queue once for food, pay, queue again for drinks), but if you aren’t in a rush even this could be construed as charmingly Italian.
What a treat and delight to find somewhere where you have your cake and eat it in London from 7am till midnight, should you wish, although Princi also sells all sorts of baked goods such as seriously good bread and pizza to eat in or take out.
Piece of cake: £3.60 - £4.60
135 Wardour Street
London W1F 0UT
Tel: 020 7488 8888
Open: Mon-Sat 7.00 – 00.00, Sun 9.00 – 22.00